Rating: Mud is a searing drama that recognizes love as a twisted journey. After all, the best relationships have a few rocky roads.
It wasn’t that long ago that I would have given Matthew MacConaughey the same chance of receiving an Oscar nomination as the Supreme Leader of North Korea receiving a Nobel Peace Prize. Times haven’t changed on the Korean Peninsula, but they certainly have in Hollywood.
Serving as a powerful lesson to other actors locked in mindless films such as Catherine Heigl, Kate Hudson and Jennifer Aniston, Mr. MacConaughey has decided to challenge himself in an artistic fashion previously adopted by Bradley Cooper. In the process he has transformed himself into a serious actor who has left regrettable performances like those seen in Fool’s Gold (2008) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2007) in his cinematic rearview mirror.
He makes Jeff Nichols’ Mud a vibrant film on multiple levels. He plays a character simply known as Mud, a fugitive wanted for murder hiding on a small island on the Mississippi River. He is discovered by two 14-year old Arkansas boys who are looking to claim an old boat nestled high in the trees as a result of a prior flood. The boys, played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, are the center of a plot that is as irresistibly charming as it is unnerving.
Mud is a lovably confused man who previously killed a wealthy Texan for abusing his ex-girlfriend. The girlfriend, played by Reese Witherspoon in a role that mirrors MacConaughey’s desire to think small, is a low-life who unfortunately loves MacConaughey along with any other available man who will buy her a cheap drink.
As the delicious plot unfolds, it actually focuses on the confusing nature of love itself. Sam Shepard plays Tom, MacConaughey’s disgusted father, who lives in isolation on a houseboat. He has a questionable past as an assassin in the CIA, and he could help his son if Shepard could overcome years of family revulsion.
Michael Shannon plays Galen, young Lofland’s caring uncle who plumbs the river’s depths for clams. Joe Don Baker, the father of McConaughey’s victim, leads a group of bounty hunters with one goal, namely to kill him. Revenge and love become twisted in a knot as McConaughey’s fate hangs in the wind.
The heart of this film deals with a coming of age story as Ellis (Tye Sheridan) wrestles with his parents’ decision to divorce. Confused over his own affection for his first girlfriend, he seeks to help McConaughey reunite with Witherspoon regardless of the consequences. After all, Mud loves her, so isn’t that enough?
Mr. McConaughey gives a rich and endearing performance as the ever hopeful Mud. He is as good as he was as the defense lawyer in The Lincoln Lawyer (2011); as the prosecuting attorney in Bernie (2011); a gay reporter trying to save a man on death row in The Paperboy (2012); the owner of a male strip club in Magic Mike and as a psychotic hitman in the NC17 rated Killer Joe (2011). I feel like we are watching a young Gregory Peck or Gary Cooper, so time will tell.